Half-Life 2: Episode One
I donít like this whole ďepisodic gamingĒ trend thatís hitting PCs everywhere thanks to our good friends at Valve, the creators of Half-Life. While I understand their justifications for releasing segments of a single game in four-hour blocks over the span of a couple of years instead of one whole package that will inevitably spend much more time in development, I just donít like playing through what feels like an unfinished product. Half-Life 2: Episode One has all the polish and shine of Half-Life 2, but the abrupt, cliff-hanger ending takes a lot out of the whole experience. And though I was certainly left wanting more and the creatorís goal will be achieved (getting me to buy three products at a higher price than just the single product), Iím going to grow impatient waiting to see how the game I bought last week ends next year.
Half-Life 2: Episode One once again puts players into the role of everyoneís favorite scientist, Gordon Freeman, but this time, he isnít going it alone. While Half-Life 2 had Gordon in control of rebel factions from time to time, for the first time in the Half-Life series, he now has a true ally in Alyx, the daughter of a scientist from the original game and co-star of Half-Life 2. As Gordon trudges through vent shafts, hurls random garbage at enemies with his gravity gun, and busts his shotgun into the chests of fools who dare step, Alyx is right next to him, for better or for worse.
And do fools dare step - the Combine soldiers are really pissed at Gordon and Alyx for destroying the Citadel at the end of Half-Life 2, their main base of operations in City 17, and theyíre out for vengeance. Most of this adventure will be spent right inside the Citadel, except for a few portions that take place in random apartment buildings (sorry, Ravenholm fans). The Citadel troopers don’t care that their base is about to go nuclear or that the ensuing explosion will annihilate every living creature within miles of the Citadel, they just want to kill Gordon and Alyx and keep them from spreading the information they collectively stole from the Combine. This is essentially the plot for this entire chapter and no real mysterys of the Half-Life universe are explained.
I found Alyx’s companionship to be more true to life, in the sense that lone-hero FPS games are admittedly ridiculous and implausible, but in a way, it didnít really feel true to the Half-Life experience. Gordon doesnít ever talk, and when heís wandering around through apartment buildings fleeing from Combine troopers carrying arsenals of death, his silence seems appropriate. Now, heís got Alyx on his side (who never shuts up) constantly barking orders at him and occasionally praising him, and naturally, he doesn’t reply. Iím not saying that he should talk or be given a voice-over or anything, but the whole series has been the Gordon Freeman Show, a one man act, that has worked flawlessly considering the dozens of Game of the Year awards that Half-Life has nabbed.
Adding an additional character takes the limelight away from Gordon, not to mention the fact that she got in my way a few times, but this was never a game-ruining issue. All in all, I have to say that Alyx’s AI worked well for the most part. With the exception of the few times she blocked my path, Alyx was a good ally, effectively eliminating Combine soldiers during battles, but still leaving me enough to do so that I didnít get bored.
Not that there was much time to get bored, mind you. Like I said before, this new Half-Life experience ends far too quickly. I beat this game in just under four hours of gameplay time (or two sittings). Thereís not much in terms of ďnewĒ here, either. Thereís one new enemy and no new weapons to kill them with. The game looks almost exactly the same as Half-Life 2 did (unless you have a fancy rig that can handle the new HDR lighting effects) and all of the voice actors reprised their roles. I assume that the next installment is going to start introducing new enemies and new means to kill them, but we’ll have to wait to see if that prediction comes true, and that’s the worst thing about this whole game. Half-Life 2: Episode One not a bad game; in fact, it’s better than any FPS game that has come out this year. I was glued to my seat the entire time, but it felt unfair that it ended so abruptly. Truthfully, I would have rather waited another year for a full-blown expansion to the game than have to play it through in installments like this. It just doesnít seem as fun this way.
But does that mean you shouldnít buy Half-Life 2: Episode One? Of course not. The game is still awesomely fun. Pulling out the gravity gun when youíre low on ammo, grabbing an explosive barrel out of the back of a destroyed pickup truck (somehow, when the truck was blown to hell, the barrel didn’t blow with it), and launching it at a swarm of converging enemies is still incredibly entertaining. And while the game may have taken a lot of Half-Life 2 elements and simply reworked them, I think they did a better job in this expansion with keeping all of the battles interesting.
One particular battle has you running through a bombed-out train station from an incredibly powerful robot armed with blazing fast miniguns. Youíll have to sprint your way through a maze of containers and train cars, running blindly as bullets pierce through the metal around you (that is, if you want to survive the attack). Of course, Combine soldiers are going to get in your way, making for some of the fastest gun-action in this game or any other, because you simply donít have time to aim. Just bust out your shotgun and try to hit their bodies and avoid the swarm of hot lead inches away from your back. When you’re finally rewarded with the means to kill the angry robot, you’ll greatly enjoy taking it down.
It’s the desire for more moments like these that’s going to drive you nuts when you play this game and it abruptly ends. But, while Iím absolutely going to whine and moan as I wait for the next episode of Half-Life 2, I should be grateful that itís already in production, and itís certainly going to be in my hands a lot sooner than Half-Life 2 was. Half-Life 2: Episode One might not be the most original experience in the Half-Life franchise and it might end a little too soon for my tastes, but this is a fun and compelling adventure thatíll keep you entertained the entire time you play it. If youíre looking for a new FPS to play through, thereís not much that can compete with Half-Life 2: Episode One, even if it is essentially an incomplete experience.
Eight out of ten